Celt And Roman: The Celts In Italy, by Peter Berresford Ellis
This book could have been so much better than it was. When one is writing a book about the interaction between two very different peoples whose relationship was very hostile, it is worthwhile to check one’s advocacy at the door and try to write an honest but also balanced history. If one cannot do that then one has no business trying to present oneself as an expert when one is clearly a shill. In this case, the author is clearly a homer for the Celts and immensely hostile to the Romans, and almost gleeful about the struggles that they faced in gaining control over Italy. The author’s bias reeks on nearly every page of this book, and he gives a benefit to the doubt to the Celts that never even crosses his mind to give to the Romans. One does not have to be a fan of the Romans or to think that they always behaved justly by others, but to think that the Celts were a noble people who behaved properly and the Romans were absolute monsters is to perpetuate the worst sort of injustice on the past by demonstrating an inability to recognize common humanity in the face of cultural conflicts.
This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and is divided into sixteen chapters. The author begins with a note on terminology and then discusses the fateful sack of Rome as being the pivotal moment in the interaction of Rome and Celt (1). After that the author gives a speculative look at the arrival of the Celts in Italy (2) as well as the relationship of the Italians and the Celts once they arrived (3). The author discusses the fall of Rome (4) and then waxes eloquent about Celtic warriors, especially the nude ones (5), and then the return of the Celts to attack Rome repeatedly (6) as well as the terror that this caused to Romans who had to continually face Celtic raiding parties and armies based in the area (7). The author discusses the relationship between the Celt, Etruscan, and Samnite in their common struggle against Roman hegemony (8) as well as the relationship between Pyrrhos, Carthage, and the Celts (9) as Rome recovered its strength. A chapter on Telemon (10) precedes a discussion of Hannibal and the Celts (11) as well as the author stumping for a forgotten Celtic victory at Litana (12). This leads to a look at the conquest (13) and colonization (14) of Cisalpine Gaul by the Romans, the last kicks at Rome in various rebellions against Roman rule (15), and the legacy of the Cisalpine Gauls to Rome, especially in matters of language and military technology (16), after which the book ends with acknowledgements, a bibliography, and an index.
The author has chosen a very interesting subject to write about in the fraught and tense relationship between Romans and Celts and the way that Romans responded harshly to the fear that they had faced from the Celts after decades of continuous conflict between the two. That said, this book would have been greatly improved by the author being more interested in the truth of the matter, at least as best as it can be understood 2000 to 2500 years after the fact, than in promoting a picture of the Celts as being good guys and the Romans being bad guys. The author spares few if any opportunities to paint the Romans in a negative light and this is deeply as unfortunate as it seriously distorts this work and turns what could have been a great book about a somewhat obscure aspect of ancient history into partisan propaganda on behalf of the Celts and more whining from historical losers in a world where a great deal too much of that happens already. But it looks like the author has established his lane as a Celtic supporter in writing about ancient history, and that should be discounted accordingly by readers of his books looking for historical insights.